Fanged Fiends: 10 Vampire Classics

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The Vampire subgenre is one of the oldest and most celebrated in horror cinema history. Starting with such early hits as F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu (1922) starring Max Schreck and Tod Browning's Dracula (1931) starring the legendary Bela Lugosi, these tales of evil bloodsucking creatures thrilled and chilled movie audiences around the world. A few decades later, Britain's Hammer Studios created a resurgence with their popular Dracula series starring the late great Christopher Lee. In the 21st century the creepy characters that crave blood, transform into bats, hate garlic and holy water continue to thrive in pop culture. Recently, GCDB picked 10 our of our favorite classic vampire themed exploitation & cult films. We urge you to check them out.

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Christopher Lee as Dracula

Dracula (1958)

Following Curse of Frankenstein in 1957 Hammer studios re-united director, screenwriter, stars and crew to resurrect another classic literary monster and with 'Dracula' (released as 'The Horror Of Dracula' in the U.S. to avoid confusion with the 1931 Bela Lugosi version) sealed the deal on their reputation as masters of Technicolor Gothic horror. After a decade of atomically enlarged insects and invaders from outer space Hammer studios almost single-handedly turned the tide of cinema fantasy and their particular brand of grim fairytale would enjoy massive box office success for almost 20 years. Other adaptations may have stuck more closely to the plot of the book but none have so successfully translated such excitement, tension and drama to the screen. All the elements that would quickly become Hammer trademarks are present here: James Bernard's baroque ‘bat out of hell’ score, the cleverly nuanced performances of beloved stars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, and the exquisitely detailed sets courtesy of production designer Bernard Robinson. 'Dracula' stands as one of the highlights in Hammer's fantastic filmography.


Brides of Dracula (1960)

Despite Christopher Lee’s refusal to reprise his role as the caped Count, Hammer studios proceeded with a follow up to their 1958 box office hit Horror of Dracula without him and the result is one of the company’s most exciting, suspenseful and visually enchanting productions. A voiceover narration informs us that although the lord of the undead Count Dracula has been destroyed his vampire spawn are still at large. Brides of Dracula is full of stunning set pieces and Terence Fisher’s direction confidently builds the suspense and drives the action. Highlights include: the graveyard birth of the vampire girl; Van Helsing purging himself of a vampire bite with a hot branding iron and a splash of holy water; and the climatic use of a windmill’s sails to cast a shadow over the blood-sucking Baron. Bernard Robinson’s extraordinarily detailed set designs even manage to surpass those of the previous film. The windmill set especially is an abundantly cobwebbed work of art. Director of photography Jack Asher’s use of candy coloured spotlights in certain key scenes adds to the fairy tale ambience in a way that would later become a trademark of Mario Bava’s gothic fever dreams. Costumes, make-up and music are all sublime and for many of Hammer’s skilled technicians this film may well contain their best work.

Brides Of Dracula Poster01.jpg

Blacula (1972)

In the year 1790, African Prince Mamuwalde (William Marshall) and his wife Luva (Vonetta McGee) visit the country of Transylvania and its most popular resident, Count Dracula (Charles Macaulay) in an effort to get help to end the slave trade. It is soon revealed that ol' Dracula himself is a racist. When Mamuwalde and Luva attempt to leave the castle, they are swiftly held captive by Dracula's vampire minions. Count Dracula then bites Mamuwalde turning him into a vampire and curses him with the name "Blacula". After locking Mamuwalde into a metal coffin, Dracula lets Luva know that her fate is sealed as well, and the two are placed inside a hidden dungeon room, never to be seen again. Centuries later, Blacula is unleashed onto America's urban landscape where he stalks the night, sucking the blood of unassuming victims. When Blacula was released it was a box office success and was immediately followed by a sequel Scream Blacula Scream co-starring Pam Grier. William Crain's sharp direction, along with the funky music score by Gene Page, and of course the late William Marshall's memorable lead performance make this film a classic of the 70s Blaxploitation genre. Highly recommended!

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Count Yorga, Vampire (1971)

After a failed seance in which the mysterious Count Yorga (Robert Quarry) attempted to call the spirit of a young woman named Donna's (Donna Anders) recently deceased mother, young couple Paul and Erica (Micheal Murphy and Judith Lang) agree to give the man a ride back to his enormous castle-like home. Their van gets stuck on the way back from dropping Yorga off and they decide to stay the night in their vehicle, despite being out in the middle of nowhere. Alone and defenseless, they are attacked during the night by a strange shrouded man who may or may not be Yorga and Paul awakens to find his lover bearing two puncture wounds on her neck and a strange proclivity for eating kittens raw. Concerned, he enlists the help of Dr. Hayes (Roger Perry), who suggests the impossible: that Erica has been bitten by a vampire and has contracted the disease spread by the undead. Hayes knows that it must be Yorga who has done this, so he gathers Paul and his friends to try and take down the vampire before his evil can be spread and more young lives can be claimed. While owing its roots more towards traditional horror films, Count Yorga, Vampire could almost be known as a serious spoof of such films.


Ganja & Hess (1973)

Ganja and Hess was originally supposed to be a standard Blaxploitation film, but writer-director Bill Gunn, decided to go in another direction completely. The result was one of the most unique and intelligently crafted films to come out of the 1970s cinema explosion. Kelly Jordan Enterprises (the company that produced it) were not happy with the arthouse nature of the film. They took the picture out of theaters after only a week and then recut the film from 110 minutes to 78 minutes to try to turn it into a typical Grindhouse-Drive In format. Writer Director Bill Gunn removed his name from the other version. The film is a vampire story, but in no way a conventional one. Dr. Hess Green (Night of the Living Dead's Duane Jones) is a doctor of anthropology. While in Africa he was stabbed by an ancient Merthian dagger that was diseased with the plague of vampirism. He has returned to the USA and he has become a vampire who needs human blood to survive. Hess is falling deeper into the life of being a non-human, but tries to deal with the evil possession by attending church services in between killing and looking for blood by any means. There are no bats, no quirky transformations in the film, the vampires are really metaphors for addictions everyone has. They need blood like junkies need heroin.

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Lifeforce (1985)

A joint US-UK crew on board the nuclear-powered space shuttle Churchill is on a mission to investigate Halley's Comet under the command of US Air Force Colonel Thomas Wolfe Carlsen (Steve Railsback). They find a 150-mile long alien spaceship hidden in the comet's corona, seemingly derelict. Upon entering the spacecraft, the crew finds hundreds of dead, shriveled bat-like creatures and three naked humanoid bodies (two male and one female) in suspended animation within glass containers. The crew recovers the three aliens and begins the return trip to Earth. It transpires that these aliens are in fact part of a race of space vampires that consume the life force of living beings, rather than their blood. Prior to an autopsy, the female alien (May), referred to throughout the film as "the Space Girl", awakens. The Space Girl then escapes the research facility and proceeds to drain various other humans of their life force, revealing in the interim an ability to shape-shift. To make matters worse, the victims, which are in a mummified state when completely drained, are temporarily revived as zombies that are also capable of draining others of their life forces, each victim needing a regular infusion of life energy every two hours lest they disintegrate or explode into clouds of ash. (Wikipedia)


Martin (1977)

Martin (John Amplas) goes to live with his older cousin, who believes that he is a vampire. In the first scene, he breaks into a young woman's cabin on a train. Then he injects narcotics into her body, slices her arm with a razor blade and drinks her blood. It makes the audience wonder why he has to do this. Is he a real vampire? Later, we find out that he's not a "traditional" vampire since garlic, mirrors and a crucifix at his cousin's house does nothing to hurt him. Martin's story is told from two perspectives. First, it has Martin struggling in the modern world, which is represented in color. Then in Martin's mind it's shown in Black and White (a kind of "VampireVision"). Most of what we see in "VampireVision" are the things that Martin sees, but clothes and objects are shown in 18-19th century renditions which means that either these things actually happened to him before or this is just how he interprets the world. George A. Romero delivers a very intriguing, alternate spin on the traditional vampire tale.

Martin poster 01.jpg

Vampire Circus (1972)

After a mob vanquishes a child-killing vampire named Count Mitterhaus (Robert Tayman), The Count's last words not only predict a curse upon the town, but that the children of his killers will all die to make way for the return of The Count. Fifteen years later, the prophecy looks to have come true. A rampant plague has been killing off much of the inhabitants in the English town. It's gotten so bad that the entire town is quarantined. Complete with roadblocks on which sentry men are ordered to shoot deserters on sight! These poor people are overdue for some entertainment! And that finally happens to appear in the form of a traveling circus, led by a Gypsy (Adrienne Corri) The townspeople are in awe of the wonderous accomplishments of the troupe, which include a trapeze sibling act and a shape-shifting panther, who's human incarnation is the suave Emil (Anthony Higgins). Though the crowd assumes that the act is all done by incredible illusions, it shouldn't be too much of a surprise to know that the supernatural is involved with this circus act.

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The Seven Brothers Meet Dracula (1974)

This genre blending film was one half of a two picture co-production deal between Hammer & Shaw Bros the other being the espionage thriller Shatter staring Stuart Whitman. Shot partly on location but mostly at Shaw Bros studios in Hong Kong, by all accounts production (on both films) was difficult for all concerned. Shaw Bros star director Chang Cheh was brought in at Run Run Shaw’s insistence to re-shoot some of ‘Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires’ fight scenes and the film soon went over budget. Despite the involvement of many Hammer regulars behind the scenes the film bears little resemblance to previous entries in the studios Dracula series which makes the harsh criticism it has received from Hammer purists rather redundant. Legend of the 7 Vampires (or The 7 Brothers Meet Dracula as it eventually became known in a re-edited form in the U.S.) is without question a Shaw Bros film albeit with Hammer horror guest stars. The plot is perfunctory and the script generally bland and frequently nonsensical however, as in all Shaw Bros productions at that time, the frantic action and outrageous visual excesses are given precedence and when judged on these aspects the film is a resounding and mightily entertaining success.

Legend of 7 golden vampires poster 01.jpg

Vampyros Lesbos (1970)

On a remote island, beautiful bloodsucker Countess Nadine Carody (Soledad Miranda) lures unwary victims with her seductive nightclub act and sets her sights on Linda (Ewa Strömberg). Linda begins having dreams about Nadine, and seeks her home on an island. She is interrupted by Memmet (Jess Franco) who warns her not to go to the island. Linda follows Memmet to his chamber where she walks in on him torturing a young woman. She escapes this encounter and proceeds to the island. On the Island, Linda meets Nadine. The two go swimming and Nadine notes that the home they are staying at used to belong to Count Dracula. Director Jess Franco applied film devices that were used in his previous film such as long strip club sequences and female protagonists while the lesbian subtext was more prominent in this film than any previous work. The music score also differs from the jazz soundtracks of his previous films with a more psychedelic music influenced soundtrack. It was composed by Manfred Hübler, Siegfried Schwab and Jesús Franco who credited himself under the alias of David Khune. The film went under several titles before being released as Vampyros Lesbos including 'Das Mal des Vampirs (Evil of the Vampires) and Im Zeichen der Vampire (Mark of the Vampire). (Wikipedia)

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